Finding the Next Einstein – STEM

Why smart is relative by Jonathan Wai, courtesy Psychology Today

Project Scientist: Inspiring the Next Generation of Females

Participants in Project Scientist

Participants in Project Scientist

How can we encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM fields?
Published on June 24, 2013 by Jonathan Wai, Ph.D. in Finding the Next Einstein

Guest post written by former NASCAR Foundation Executive Director and mother-of-two Sandy Marshall, who founded Project Scientist to address the disadvantages faced by girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

I entered my undergraduate studies with dreams of one day becoming a doctor. But, like many girls in the sciences, when the coursework became challenging I lost the confidence in my ability to pursue my dream and complete my studies. My experience is not unique and one that is faced by so many girls and young women today.  When I walked into most of my classrooms I’d look around and see mostly men. I had very few female classmates and professors. What I lacked was a community of support to see me through the challenges, a group of women and girls that could speak from experience and help me see my potential and visualize my future in the sciences.

I ended up completing my degree in Public Policy and Administration and spent the next 20 years working as a non-profit executive. But, over the past several years through my work as Executive Director of The NASCAR Foundation, I became increasingly aware of the disadvantages that girls and women still face in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) today. I got the opportunity to participate in the STEM Funders Network and meet with other national organizations that are working to tackle this issue. As I became more informed, I realized that I was part of a growing statistic. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. A few of the contributing factors to this difference include: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.

After doing more research on the topic and getting frustrated by the limited choices available to my two young daughters, I founded Project Scientist out of my guesthouse in 2010 in order to engage with and inspire my daughters and other neighborhood girls with a passion for the STEM subjects. Through hands-on exploration, education and career counseling, mentoring and internships, Project Scientist helps girls discover the endless opportunities available to them and acquire the leadership skills needed to thrive in today’s STEM environments.

This year we launched Project Scientist as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit. With the help of industry experts we developed a pipeline, based on national research, that helps nurture a girl’s interest from age 4 to 35. Project Scientist Academy is a four-week summer camp that provides an engaging and fun environment for girls, ages 4-12, with an aptitude, talent, and passion for STEM. The camp runs from July 8 to August 2, and will be held in the brand new, state-of-the-art Rogers Science and Health Building at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C.  The Academy brings together like-minded girls who enjoy exploring through the sciences and celebrating their accomplishments.

In addition to the Academy, the Project Scientist pipeline includes future projects such as: Project Scientist Scholars, a program for middle-school girls that focuses on applying scientific concepts to address real world social problems; Project Scientist Coaches, a powerful community of inspirational and dedicated professional leaders and students in the STEM fields; and Project Scientist Superstars, female scientists and aspiring young scientists who are making contributions to the field.

Our hope is to create an effective and efficient prototype this summer that we can then replicate at other universities across the country. We also believe we have the ability to provide valuable research to the STEM community on what inspires, drives and sustains girls’ interests in these subjects.

By highlighting women in STEM-related fields, we hope to provide young girls with female role models and create a shift in their perceptions of what it looks like to be a scientist. When my six-year-old daughter is old enough to go to college, I want her to be able to walk into her science class and look around and see people and peers with whom she can relate. I want her to be able to pursue her passion, in a way that I, and so many other women like me, was unable.

At Project Scientist we plan to foster today’s scientists who will lead the world in solving tomorrow’s greatest problems.


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